Israeli firefighters say blaze near Jerusalem under control

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Smoke and red fire retardant sprayed by Israeli firefighting aircraft mingles on a hillside on the third day of wildfires in the Jerusalem mountains, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. Israeli firefighters worked for a third consecutive day on Tuesday to contain a wildfire that has consumed a large swath of forest west of Jerusalem and threatened several communities. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

JERUSALEM – Israel's national fire chief on Tuesday said a massive wildfire that has consumed a large swath of forest west of Jerusalem has been brought under control.

Dedi Simchi made the announcement after a three-day battle that required over 100 firefighting teams from across the country, over a dozen firefighting planes and even enlisted a small group of Palestinian firefighters in a rare instance of cooperation.

The fire burned over 20 square kilometers (8 square miles) of forest, forcing hundreds of families to evacuate their homes in several communities just outside Jerusalem. It was one of the largest wildfires in Israeli history.

Speaking to Channel 13 TV, the fire chief said the blaze was under control.

“We have put out the fire almost entirely,” he said. He said there were still isolated smoldering hotspots, and that firefighters would work throughout the night to ensure the blaze did not reignite.

Simchi said the blaze had been caused by “human actions,” but he stopped short of saying it was arson. Hot, dry weather and short winters in recent years have left the wooded hills near Jerusalem especially prone to wildfires.

When the fire broke out on Sunday, it covered Jerusalem with a massive black and orange cloud. Windy conditions, along with hot summer weather made it difficult for firefighters. Scores of firefighting crews from across the country were brought in, and the Israeli air force provided a Hercules transport aircraft to help by dropping chemicals to help stop the spread of the blaze.

On Monday, Israeli leaders appealed to international allies for help. But by Tuesday, officials said the assistance was no longer needed.

In a rare instance of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, the Palestinian Authority in the neighboring West Bank sent five trucks and 20 firefighters to assist the Israelis.

Israel's defense minister, Benny Gantz, publicly thanked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"Mutual care and saving human lives are common interests to us all,” he said.